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Main parties in the North agree to deal paving way for power sharing to be restored

The Stormont executive will now sit tomorrow after a three-year impasse.

Mary Lou McDonald flanked by party colleagues Pearse Doherty, Michelle O'Neill and others.
Mary Lou McDonald flanked by party colleagues Pearse Doherty, Michelle O'Neill and others.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Images

Updated Jan 10th 2020, 7:15 PM

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has announced that the party has agreed to back a deal to restore power sharing at Stormont.

With the DUP having already signalled its support for a draft deal proposed by the UK and Irish governments, the republican party’s endorsement means the two parties will re-enter a mandatory coalition in Belfast following a three-year absence. 

It comes after the five main parties in the North were presented with a proposal from Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith that could form the basis for reestablishing the Northern Ireland Executive. 

As well as the DUP, the SDLP has also said it will support the deal.

McDonald said: “The Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle has met today and has taken the decision to re-enter the power sharing institutions and to nominate ministers to the power sharing executive.

“We believe that the changes which have been achieved in the negotiations over the last year build on what was agreed in February 2019.”

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

She said that the deal grants “official legal recognition of the Irish language for the first time” and said she wanted to commend activists who campaigned for it.

McDonald added they have reform of the petition of concern to try and “end its misuse as a veto by one political party”.

She added it was a “red letter day” for Irish identity, and that her party will continue to work for a United Ireland.

She said: “And we want to ensure that the criteria for ensuring the triggering of an Irish unity poll are set out, and that planning for Irish is stepped up, including the convening of a national forum to discuss and plan for the future.”

Flanked by party colleagues, she said: “Three years ago, Martin McGuinness set down a challenge to all of us, to get it right and to deliver for all, for every single citizen.

Speaking in Dublin this evening, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that “history is being made today”. 

“We now have confirmation from the two largest parties that they both are committed to re-entering an executive and establishing a functioning Stormont assembly again,” he said.

“I think it is time to recognise that something substantial, significant and positive is happening on our island,” Coveney added.

The assembly will now sit at Stormont tomorrow.

DUP on board

This evening, DUP leader Arlene Foster conceded there will be parts of the deal that will be challenging for the people that she represents.

“But overall and on the whole I feel that it’s a fair and balanced deal and that’s why we were able to recommend it last night to our party officers and to the elected representatives,” she said.

“I think people will note that whilst there is a recognition of the facilitation of Irish language, there is also very much a recognition of those of us who are Ulster British and live here in Northern Ireland as well, and there is many mechanisms to strengthen the union.”

Foster said the Northern Ireland Assembly will sit tomorrow when a new Speaker and a new First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be appointed, as well as the other ministers of the Executive.

She also said work will be done to improve her party’s relationship with Sinn Fein following three years of suspension of the devolved institutions.

“It is important to recognise that we have had three years of no government here and that of course leads to us not having a relationship because we haven’t been meeting to do government here in this building so I think it is important that we do build up that relationship again, most of all for the people of Northern Ireland so we can build a better future for them and move Northern Ireland forward,” she said.

This evening, the SDLP in the North said that it is on board with the new deal. 

On Twitter, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “We have taken the decision as a party to go into government, to make sure this government is one that delivers for people across the North.”

He added: “We have an opportunity now to show that we can finally make this place work. We all need to do that. It’s about time we started delivering for people.”

The wide-ranging deal, which was published by the governments on Thursday night, contains compromise solutions to the vexed disputes at the heart of the 36-month power sharing impasse, such as legislative provisions for Irish language speakers.

It also includes what the UK government has insisted will be a major Treasury-funded financial package to tackle a host of acute problems facing a public sector that has been floundering amid the governance vacuum.

That includes a high-profile industrial dispute in the health service which today saw nurses again walk out on strike.

Under the terms of the deal, the new executive will also take action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists; extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms; increase the number of police officers on the beat; and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.

With reporting from Sean Murray, Christina Finn

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